There were perhaps two moments in which Kyle Busch definitively lost the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship on Sunday night during the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The first was when crew chief Adam Stevens made the decision to have Busch stay out and long-pit as the championship leader until lap 215, coming down pit road nearly 20 laps after most of the field. That cost him track position over the other three contenders. That decision was poised to work out had the race had stayed green, cycling Busch back to the lead. Instead, a caution waved on lap 227, trapping Busch behind both Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick.
The second moment was when Joey Logano passed Busch on the ensuing restart, costing him several seconds to Truex, even after the 2014 champion had passed him back. He used up too much rubber and wasted too much time in racing Logano, and that may have made the difference.
Busch caught Truex with 15 laps to go, but he just couldn’t find a way around his Toyota stablemate. Truex won the race and the championship by .681 seconds over Busch.
„It wasn’t quite what we wanted there at the end,“ Busch said. „I thought we had a really great race car, especially on the long runs we were really, really good. Just came down to there at the end not having enough tire when I got to (Truex), so I just overused my stuff, and I knew I overused my stuff when I was running with (Logano) trying to get by him and just overworked everything and got to (Harvick), got by him pretty quick.
„I tried to make sure that I could do that pretty quick so then I could have at least a little more tire life but didn’t seem to pay me off any when I got to the 78.“
Busch was faster on longer runs but just had too much track position to make up after the battle with Logano. And even though that defeat can arguably be traced to the off-strategy call, Busch says he still agreed with Stevens.
„I was all for it,“ Busch said. „The last couple nights we’ve seen NASCAR leave it green, and they let them race it out, so I thought that was going to be kind of the strategy, but I guess when you’re going to win by 12 seconds or something, then you’d better get a caution when you can get one.“
Busch wasn’t sure if the caution initiated by his older brother’s spinning generated enough debris to warrant a caution, but he also admits his team should have known better than to expect the race to stay green.
„I don’t know if there was really stuff out there,“ Truex said. „I didn’t see anything out there. I don’t know what was the leading cause to throwing the caution, but it’s always inevitable. It’s always going to happen. So I guess that just — we just didn’t think of it, and it bit us.“
Busch finished the season five points behind Truex in the championship standings. He scored five wins, 14 top fives, 22 top 10s and a tour-leading eight poles.